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ALFRED HITCHCOCK

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ALFRED HITCHCOCK

Postby MissGoddess » March 26th, 2012, 10:18 am

I did a site search and found no general thread on one of my perennial favorite directors, but being not very savvy forgive me if I overlooked one. I found some interesting tidbits about one of the "Master of Suspense's" wartime films, Lifeboat (1944) that I thought I'd share since the pairing of Hitch and Steinbeck is so intriguing to me.

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Lifeboat (1944)

Below is an interesting correspondence from John Steinbeck to the producers at 20th Century Fox regarding his displeasure with some aspects of Hitchcock's Lifeboat, for which he received screenplay writing credit:

New York
January 10, 1944

Dear Sirs:

I have just seen the film Lifeboat, directed by Alfred Hitchcock and billed as written by me. While in many ways the film is excellent there are one or two complaints I would like to make. While it is certainly true that I wrote a script for Lifeboat, it is not true that in that script as in the film there were any slurs against organized labor nor was there a stock comedy Negro. On the contrary there was an intelligent and thoughtful seaman who knew realistically what he was about. And instead of the usual colored travesty of the half comic and half pathetic Negro there was a Negro of dignity, purpose and personality. Since this film occurs over my name, it is painful to me that these strange, sly obliquities should be ascribed to me.

John Steinbeck

Later he sent this wire to his agent:


MEXICO CITY
FEBRUARY 19, 1944

PLEASE CONVEY THE FOLLOWING TO 20TH CENTURY FOX IN VIEW OF THE FACT THAT MY SCRIPT FOR THE PICTURE LIFE BOAT WAS DISTORTED IN PRODUCTION SO THAT ITS LINE AND INTENTION HAS BEEN CHANGED AND BECAUSE THE PICTURE SEEMS TO ME TO BE DANGEROUS TO THE AMERICAN WAR EFFORT I REQUEST MY NAME BE REMOVED FROM ANY CONNECTION WITH ANY SHOWING OF THIS FILM

Fox did not honor his request and used Steinbeck's name liberally in their promotions. Steinbeck and Hitch were nominated for Oscars. I now have to watch this movie again because I didn't remember much about the character "Joe" except it wasn't a very big part, or even that Steinbeck was associated with this project. He and Hitchcock don't seem an ideal match.

Hitch's own words describing the intent behind the picture:

“We wanted to show that at that moment there were two world forces confronting each other, the democracies and the Nazis, and while the democracies were completely disorganized, all of the Germans were clearly headed in the same direction.”

Correspondence is from the book Steinbeck: A Life in Letters.

If you care to see it on YouTube, Lifeboat can be viewed here:


[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YYmQG3YlAoA[/youtube]
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Re: ALFRED HITCHCOCK

Postby RedRiver » March 26th, 2012, 10:52 am

Fascinating. I had forgotten Steinbeck was associated with this film. It's not my favorite Hitchcock. An interesting concept. But the restrictions work against it. By the time it's over, I'm thinking, Get out of that boat! Nonetheless, this information makes me want to watch it again.

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Re: ALFRED HITCHCOCK

Postby moira finnie » March 26th, 2012, 11:55 am

What a fascinating light you have cast on Lifeboat, one of my favorite Hitchcock films.

I do remember that Canada Lee, playing George "Joe" Spencer, has always impressed me as one of the few people in the boat without an axe to grind or an inflated ego to prop up. There was one sequence when Joe is encouraged to pick the pocket of "Willie" (Walter Slezak) after the survivors become alarmed by the U-Boat captain's intentions. Joe says that he gave all that deviousness up long ago, and lived on the straight and narrow now, though he does use his skill eventually for the sake of the group. Though it goes unexpressed explicitly, "Joe" plays a vital role in the microcosm of society that is seen on the boat
Image
I think that there is an exchange with Henry Hull's fulsome industrialist as well, after he insists on calling Joe by some name (Not his own) that a man like Hull would have used with an almost unconscious racism and a false heartiness when encountering a black man as a porter, redcap or some other "menial," though Canada Lee had such presence, the implied insult was acknowledged tacitly by the Black actor, whose resentment could be perceived by any sentient viewer, though perhaps this was more pointed in Steinbeck's original version. Below you can see more about the tension and creative relationship between Steinbeck and Hitchcock here in a really interesting article by Steven Federle in The Steinbeck Quarterly from 1979. You can see the relevant pages outlining the differences between Steinbeck's story in detail in the thumbnails below if you would like. It is especially interesting how Canada Lee's character was changed:

ImageImageImageImageImageImageImage

It would be interesting to read Steinbeck's screenplay, (which is only available to be seen by appointment in an archive) and was never published in the novelized form that the writer originally envisioned after submitting his treatment to Hitch. Interestingly, according to Patrick McGilligan's Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light, Steinbeck originally wanted the story told as a dreamlike flashback from the viewpoint of an ordinary seaman or a non-English-speaking Willie, the submariner. "Later, when Lifeboat stirred up controversy, Steinbeck would complain that Hitchcock 'was one of those incredible English middle-class snobs who really and truly despise working people.' Hitchcock, as he often did, had other writers contribute to and change the screen treatment prepared by Steinbeck, including Jo Swerling, (The Westerner, Leave Her to Heaven) ( MacKinlay Kantor (The Best Years of Our Lives, Andersonville) and Alma Reville Hitchcock, even though the director ultimately tried to simplify the process by assigning credit to only two of the most bankable names involved at the time of release--John Steinbeck & Jo Swerling.

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Perhaps my memory is faulty on this matter and I'll have to watch this film again to see what Steinbeck meant. I have always found Canada Lee in this movie as well as others to be among the most dignified and human of actors who never allowed the cliches of the period to define him in any narrow role. Back in 2007, Mongo shone an excellent spotlight on this actor, which you can see here, about halfway down the page:

viewtopic.php?f=22&t=704&start=120

There is also a documentary, Canada Lee: Man Out Front (2008--Kenny Kilfara & Tim Nackashi) aka Blacklist: Recovering the Life of Canada Lee (2008) which was to have had a wide release. Unfortunately, it does not appear to be well known but you can read more about it here if you would like. The first except clip from the documentary on this site regarding Lifeboat is painful and fascinating to see, bringing out Canada Lee's desire to put "the film first" above the way he was treated and showing some of the most poetic moments of his beautiful performance. I'd love to see this doc!
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Re: ALFRED HITCHCOCK

Postby charliechaplinfan » March 26th, 2012, 1:08 pm

I watched Lifeboat only recently, stupidly having succumbed to the notion that it was a lesser known Hitchcock movie, one made for the war and not of the calibre of Hitch's later works. How wrong I discovered I was, I was utterly drawn into the movie and whilst it was hard to believe at times that it came from the master it does lead you down the road that Hitch wants you to travel, the one of things not always being as they seem. Everyone has an axe to grind, everyone gets drawn into the melee apart Canada Lee. I'm sure a second viewing will reveal even more of the nuances of the characters, I couldn't tear myself away from this one.
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Re: ALFRED HITCHCOCK

Postby Mr. Arkadin » March 26th, 2012, 4:59 pm

It's been awhile since I've seen Lifeboat, but my recollection of Lee's portrayal of Joe is one of conscience, where he reflects the morality of the group (by being asked to steal--shades of Richard Wright's Black Boy), but stands outside it (he is the only one who does not join the killing of Willie).

It has been said that Hitch originally wanted Lee to say the Lord's Prayer in a stereotypical "black" performance. Instead of arguing or refusing, Lee simply said the lines as he saw the character--noble, honest, and humble. Hitchcock left it in.

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Re: ALFRED HITCHCOCK

Postby Rita Hayworth » March 26th, 2012, 11:34 pm

To be short and brief here ... I would love to see Lifeboat again. This movie makes you think about life and it's consequences of making decisions that affects the people surrounding you.

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Re: ALFRED HITCHCOCK

Postby MissGoddess » March 27th, 2012, 1:37 pm

RedRiver wrote:Fascinating. I had forgotten Steinbeck was associated with this film. It's not my favorite Hitchcock. An interesting concept. But the restrictions work against it. By the time it's over, I'm thinking, Get out of that boat! Nonetheless, this information makes me want to watch it again.


Red,
I guess I have a fondness for these scenarios where people with differering backgrounds are stuck in some "tight spot" or restricted situation and Lifeboat is one of my favorites along those lines since Hitch puts so much "between the lines" with most of his characters. It's almost as though it were more about them as people and how they bring out good and bad in each other than about the situation. I guess the restrictiveness can be claustrophobic. Hitch seemed to have a fondness for limited sets.
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Re: ALFRED HITCHCOCK

Postby knitwit45 » March 27th, 2012, 6:07 pm

Ms. G, I think the use of restricted sets makes one focus solely on the characters, instead of watching the backgrounds, scenery, etc. You are roped in, so to speak, to the frustrations and responses to circumstance, however subtle, in a way you might otherwise miss. (And I'm probably preaching to the choir here! :lol: :lol: )

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Re: ALFRED HITCHCOCK

Postby MissGoddess » March 27th, 2012, 7:10 pm

Dearest Moira...I only trotted out some hors d'oeuvres, you served the main course!

moirafinnie wrote:What a fascinating light you have cast on Lifeboat, one of my favorite Hitchcock films.


I'm glad to learn you, too, are a fan of it!

I do remember that Canada Lee, playing George "Joe" Spencer, has always impressed me as one of the few people in the boat without an axe to grind or an inflated ego to prop up. There was one sequence when Joe is encouraged to pick the pocket of "Willie" (Walter Slezak) after the survivors become alarmed by the U-Boat captain's intentions. Joe says that he gave all that deviousness up long ago, and lived on the straight and narrow now, though he does use his skill eventually for the sake of the group. Though it goes unexpressed explicitly, "Joe" plays a vital role in the microcosm of society that is seen on the boat


I believe "Joe" is a super important character, certainly the most warm and humane one, which is in total opposite to the kind of qualities it takes to generate warfare. In other words, if more people were like Joe, would there be so many wars? Hitchcock would never present a character this way accidentally. I believe in his quiet way, he supports Canada Lee's interpretation of the character in a humane, dignified way.

I think that there is an exchange with Henry Hull's fulsome industrialist as well, after he insists on calling Joe by some name (Not his own) that a man like Hull would have used with an almost unconscious racism and a false heartiness when encountering a black man as a porter, redcap or some other "menial," though Canada Lee had such presence, the implied insult was acknowledged tacitly by the Black actor, whose resentment could be perceived by any sentient viewer, though perhaps this was more pointed in Steinbeck's original version.


I think most of the characters...excepting Willy (Walter Slezak) and Joe (Canada Lee)...undergo a real learning process. Slezak of course is the catalyst, so he doesn't change and that serves a dramatic purpose. I'm not sure how it would have gone had Steinbeck's more passive interpretation of the German character had been retained. Hull, as you point out, has a lot to learn. Money and power have put "distance" between him and the average, working person. There's precious little distance between anyone on a lifeboat.

Below you can see more about the tension and creative relationship between Steinbeck and Hitchcock here in a really interesting article by Steven Federle in The Steinbeck Quarterly from 1979.


Hmmm....that was fascinating. In many respects. The tension between writers and everyone else involved in making a movie is a constant one. I once toyed with screenwriting, and I learned one thing and that was to let go of the expectation that anything I wrote would end up fully intact on the screen. It's never been so and still is not so. Writers have very little control over their material once they submit it, not even those who go on to direct (Sturges, Mankiewicz, Wilder, et al) can always get their vision up there without some compromises.

In the case of Lifeboat, I have seen far unhappier transformations from page to screen, so I can't entirely side with the writer. In fact I tend to wonder if his views might have tempered over time. His criticism of Canada Lee's "Joe" as a mere "stock character" doesn't hold water to me, though it might have looked that way in the shooting script and perhaps on just the first and only viewing of the film by the author. Any alteration at all can seem a travesty to a writer, and they react accordingly. I don't think Hitchcock filmed Steinbeck's story, but he didn't make a mockery of it, either.

It would be interesting to read Steinbeck's screenplay, (which is only available to be seen by appointment in an archive) and was never published in the novelized form that the writer originally envisioned after submitting his treatment to Hitch. Interestingly, according to Patrick McGilligan's Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light, Steinbeck originally wanted the story told as a dreamlike flashback from the viewpoint of an ordinary seaman or a non-English-speaking Willie, the submariner.


A non-English speaking Willie? So the flashbacks would have to be subtitled? Sometimes writers get a little fanciful. :D

"Later, when Lifeboat stirred up controversy, Steinbeck would complain that Hitchcock 'was one of those incredible English middle-class snobs who really and truly despise working people.'


This got a laugh from me! It might be true, who knows?! I've generally felt that while Hitch certainly felt comfortable presenting us with sympathy the people and world of the rich, he often gave the most grounded dialogue, the most incisive commentary, to working class character. Thelma Ritter's "Stella" in Rear Window is a prime example. It's one of her finest screen roles, and one of the wisest characters she ever played, of which there are many.

There is also a documentary, Canada Lee: Man Out Front (2008--Kenny Kilfara & Tim Nackashi) aka Blacklist: Recovering the Life of Canada Lee (2008) which was to have had a wide release. Unfortunately, it does not appear to be well known but you can read more about it here if you would like. The first except clip from the documentary on this site regarding Lifeboat is painful and fascinating to see, bringing out Canada Lee's desire to put "the film first" above the way he was treated and showing some of the most poetic moments of his beautiful performance. I'd love to see this doc!


Thank you for that link, too! I'd love to see more of that documentary, too. PBS or TCM should air it. The excerpt was extremely moving. I'm really surprised and saddened to hear about his treatment by some on the set. I couldn't begin to think that any of the principal cast did so, but one never knows. I liked hearing about Bendix's reaction. "Rap them in the mouth!" ha! It's so him. :D
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Re: ALFRED HITCHCOCK

Postby MissGoddess » March 27th, 2012, 7:16 pm

charliechaplinfan wrote:I watched Lifeboat only recently, stupidly having succumbed to the notion that it was a lesser known Hitchcock movie, one made for the war and not of the calibre of Hitch's later works. How wrong I discovered I was, I was utterly drawn into the movie and whilst it was hard to believe at times that it came from the master it does lead you down the road that Hitch wants you to travel, the one of things not always being as they seem. Everyone has an axe to grind, everyone gets drawn into the melee apart Canada Lee. I'm sure a second viewing will reveal even more of the nuances of the characters, I couldn't tear myself away from this one.


CCFan, I hope you do watch it again...I fully believe it has more to yield upon repeat viewings.
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Re: ALFRED HITCHCOCK

Postby MissGoddess » March 27th, 2012, 7:20 pm

Mr. Arkadin wrote:It's been awhile since I've seen Lifeboat, but my recollection of Lee's portrayal of Joe is one of conscience, where he reflects the morality of the group (by being asked to steal--shades of Richard Wright's Black Boy), but stands outside it (he is the only one who does not join the killing of Willie).


Absolutley, MrA...he is very much representative of the conscience of man, while at the same time an individual human being. He remains a bit separate, partly because he won't go along with the violence, and partly because that's the way it was. Even in a lifeboat, prejudices remained. And just as in a real lifeboat, there is always danger of imbalance causing everything to tip over. The causes of imbalance here being of course, people's attitudes and hostilities, both racial and nationalistic.

It has been said that Hitch originally wanted Lee to say the Lord's Prayer in a stereotypical "black" performance. Instead of arguing or refusing, Lee simply said the lines as he saw the character--noble, honest, and humble. Hitchcock left it in.


I want to rewatch the movie, but I do remember that being a very moving recitation of the 23rd Psalm. Lee's performance is beautiful, to me.
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Re: ALFRED HITCHCOCK

Postby MissGoddess » March 27th, 2012, 7:21 pm

kingme wrote:To be short and brief here ... I would love to see Lifeboat again. This movie makes you think about life and it's consequences of making decisions that affects the people surrounding you.


I hope you do, kingme! And I might ask you and anyone else who cares to share...what are your favorite Hitchock movies?
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Re: ALFRED HITCHCOCK

Postby Rita Hayworth » March 27th, 2012, 8:07 pm

My Favorites Movies of Hitchcock

By Chronological Order

I love them all ... and my favorites are highlighted in bold.

1935 ... The 39 Steps
1935 ... Sabotage
1938 ... The Lady Vanishes
1941 ... Suspicion
1943 ... The Shadow of a Doubt
1944 ... Lifeboat
1945 ... Spellbound
1946 ... Notorious
1951 ... Strangers on the Train
1954 ... Dial M for Murder
1954 ... Rear Window
1955 ... To Catch a Thief
1958 ... Vertigo
1959 ... North by Northwest

1969 ... Topaz

I don't (I have seen them) care for it.

1960 ... Psycho
1963 ... The Birds

I haven't seen 1976 Family Plot yet.

Is Family Plot any good at all?

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Re: ALFRED HITCHCOCK

Postby Mr. Arkadin » March 27th, 2012, 8:12 pm

MissGoddess wrote:
Mr. Arkadin wrote:
It has been said that Hitch originally wanted Lee to say the Lord's Prayer in a stereotypical "black" performance. Instead of arguing or refusing, Lee simply said the lines as he saw the character--noble, honest, and humble. Hitchcock left it in.


I want to rewatch the movie, but I do remember that being a very moving recitation of the 23rd Psalm. Lee's performance is beautiful, to me.


I forgot--it was the 23rd Psalm! I guess I need to revisit it soon.

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Re: ALFRED HITCHCOCK

Postby MissGoddess » March 27th, 2012, 8:16 pm

Thank you, kingme! I am pretty much a fan of all those you list except Topaz and Family Plot, however I know that these later Hitchcock films definitely have their fans. Hopefully Family Plot aficianados will share their views here!

I admit Psycho is not high ranking for me, though it still fascinates me and my appreciation is growing for it. Hitch has said he meant it as a "dark comedy" and I've tried watching it with that in mind. Some scenes certainly take on a mordantly funny aspect when viewed that way. Other aspects seem serious and no other way to take them. Either way, it's an expertly crafted film, a genuinely scary one, and a departure from his usual glamorous milieux.
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